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Open houses set to discuss major, missing link in Nebraska Expressway system: York to Columbus

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Open houses set to discuss major, missing link in Nebraska Expressway system: York to Columbus

Feb 26, 2024 | 6:58 pm ET
By Paul Hammel
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Open houses set to discuss major, missing link in Nebraska Expressway system: York to Columbus
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Nebraska's long-delayed expressway system has major segments still on the drawing board in eastern Nebraska, including the York to Columbus segment on U.S. 81. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Transportation)

LINCOLN — Public open houses have been scheduled in March to discuss building a major, missing link in the state’s expressway system: a 41-mile stretch from York to Columbus.

Widening that segment of U.S Highway 81 is expected to cost an estimated $400 million to $500 million and hasn’t been scheduled for construction. The exact right of way needed to be acquired also hasn’t been determined.

“We’re still in preliminary planning,” said Jeni Campana, a spokeswoman with the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Initially intended completion by 2003

But, she said, the open houses will give the public a chance to weigh in on the route and what they want to see in the last two-lane segment of U.S. 81 from the Kansas border to Norfolk.

The Nebraska Expressway program was launched in 1988 to link all major cities in the state with Interstate 80. It was initially envisioned to take 25 years to complete.

But funding shortfalls have delayed the anticipated completion of the 600 miles of four-lane highways to no sooner than 2036. About 70% is currently completed.

Campana rejected the idea that the York-Columbus segment is getting attention now because Gov. Jim Pillen is from Columbus.

“This has been on our radar for a while, and it’s been on our radar before he became governor,” she said.

A press release from NDOT says that construction could start as early as the fall of 2028, though the York-Columbus project isn’t currently scheduled by the agency to begin then. It will depend on available funds, the agency said.

Open houses

The open houses are set from 5-7 p.m. at the following dates and locations:

  • March 12, Shelby-Rising City Public Schools, 650 N. Walnut St., Shelby.
  • March 13, Osceola Auditorium, 361 Central St., Osceola.
  • March 14, Holthus Convention Center, 3130 Holen Ave., York.

A more formal public hearing on the project is tentatively planned in Osceola in the fall, NDOT’s press release indicated.

Pillen has called for the state to use bond financing — something not done in the past — to jump-start the completion of the long-delayed expressways. NDOT officials have said that unfinished segments of the expressway plan could get such financing.